Even Post-Alito, Democrats Should Be Optimistic About 2006
The president, even one with approval ratings in the low forties, gets to control the agenda whether we like it or not, especially with the assist of a conservative corporate media. The GOP figured out awhile ago that if you controlled the media and the election technology, and were aided and abetted by an ineffective Democratic leadership in both house of Congress at the outset of this decade, you can run the ship unimpeded for at least 4-6 years before the voters get restless, especially after allowing 9/11 to happen on their watch and using it as their whole argument for power. While I get over my disappointment about the Alito confirmation, I want to point out that Democrats, despite their failures, are in a good position to make strong inroads into GOP control this fall. Recent polls point us to some clues as to how this could happen.
The new ABC News/Washington Post poll finds that the issue of ethics may be a sleeper against Bush and the GOP this fall:
A clear majority of Americans now disapprove of President Bush's handling of ethics in government, and three-quarters say the administration should disclose all contacts between White House officials and disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
The administration has declined to release records of Abramoff meetings, saying it will not "engage in a fishing expedition." But in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, 76 percent said the White House should produce such a list. Even 65 percent of Republicans said so.
As things stand, the ethics situation in Washington is not working to Bush's advantage. In advance of his 2006 State of the Union address, 56 percent now disapprove of the way the president is handling ethics in government, up from 49 percent in mid-December.
Beyond disapproval of Bush on ethics, there's been some weakening for the Republicans more broadly. Asked which party they trust more to stand up to lobbyists and special interest groups, just 27 percent of Americans picked the Republicans, down from 34 percent last month. More, 46 percent, preferred the Democrats.
Moreover, 43 percent say the overall level of ethics and honesty in the federal government has fallen during Bush's presidency — about 20 points more than Bill Clinton during the Whitewater controversy more than a decade ago.
I love that part. But it isn't just this poll that indicates problems for the GOP this fall, especially on ethics. The new CBS News/New York Times poll out today found that Democrats have a nine-point advantage in the generic ballot question for the midterm elections this year (43% would vote for the Democratic candidate in their district, and 34% would vote for the GOP candidate.) And 44% of those polled now think it is better when the Congress is controlled by a different party than the president, while only 32% support one-party control.
And if you think the “culture of corruption” issue won’t cut against the GOP this year, guess again: Democrats are viewed favorably by a 53%-40% margin, while the GOP is viewed unfavorably by 51% of those polled. Twice as many respondents felt that the GOP would take a bribe as those who felt the Democrats would.
In his SOTU, Bush plans to tout greater tax breaks for health savings accounts, and there has been an explosion in such accounts over the past several years. Not surprisingly, there is evidence that the White House has been planning with the financial services industry to make this initiative the 2006 version of Social Security privatization, a chance for Wall Street to make money while the GOP aims to provide more tax cuts for the healthy and wealthy. Yet those who have chosen high deductible policies and HSAs over the last several years have a lower level of satisfaction and a riskier use of health care than those who still have comprehensive policies. But will Bush's attempt to turn health care into another tax scam against the federal treasury be well-received by the public? No.
The most startling finding from the new CBS News/New York Times poll out today is the fact that 90% thought that the nation’s health care system requires fundamental change, or needs to be completely rebuilt. Moreover, 62% think it is the federal government’s responsibility to guarantee health insurance for all Americans, while only 32% said it wasn’t a federal responsibility. Sure, those 32% will support what Bush is proposing next week, but Democrats have a huge opportunity on health care this year, just like they did in 2002.
Aside from health care and ethics, Democrats will have other issues to exploit. The opportunity will exist over the coming weeks to tie the Abramoff mess to the Medicare Part D fiasco, based on rumblings from Nancy Pelosi's office. If this linkage can be made, the GOP leadership will see a number of heretofore safe seats in key states now become competitive.
The number of former Iraq war veterans who are running as Democrats will also provide opportunities for another 2-4 pickups this fall.
Energy independence, amidst high gas and heating oil prices, Exxon's record profits, and our reliance on the Saudis will also play against the Big Oil party at a time when we should be embarking on the New Apollo Initiative and are asking our troops to die for Persian Gulf oil.
The CBO reported yesterday that if we ever want to see a return to Clinton-era budget surpluses, the only way it will happen is if the Bush tax cuts expire, and rates return to what they were when he came into office. Who says so? The CBO, which said that if Bush’s tax cuts were made permanent, we will see deficits of well over $400 billion in 2012.
But it can also be argued that unless Democrats can figure out a way to reach through the GOP's planned "fear and smear" campaign this fall and talk about terrorism and national security, we will see a repeat of 2002 and 2004. I agree, and I think one way for Democrats to do this is to link energy independence with national security. Another way is to address how this administration has focused so narrowly on Iraq that they have fallen asleep at the switch on other issues of equal importance that affect our national security just as much.
Yes, it will be important to remind folks that a) 9/11 happened on Bush's watch; b) it was Bush who let Bin Laden and Zarqawi get away; c) let the Taliban back into Afghanistan; d) directed our National Guard into Iraq instead of guarding the homeland; and e) allowed Iraq to be Al Qaeda's next great training ground. But Democrats can also get at Bush on the competence issue, by suggesting that while Bush focused on Iraq, we have been forced into a face-saving retreat on Iran, and now see that after spending $500 million to sell Fatah to the Palestinians, they instead threw their lot in with Hamas after four years of Bush doing little in the region. These two events could have had different outcomes if the GOP had a strategic world view and could multi-task, rather than base everything on an "all terror, all the time" simplistic approach.
These opportunities will exist this fall for the Democrats, and this doesn't even count what comes from the Alito right turn on the Supreme Court. Some of these opportunities stem from Bush mistakes and overreaching, but to a degree much of the Democrats' opportunities this fall stem simply from a natural political cycle whereby voters will tire of one-party control after 4-6 years.
But will Democrats be able to clearly make the case and work the media at the same time as I suggested earlier this week?